Tanzania’s aspirations for quick democratic reforms have been postponed until August, when all political parties will convene a meeting to discuss the recommendations of a government-backed taskforce that held public consultations last year.
The consensus to call a larger meeting in August was among resolutions reached at a Political Parties Council meeting held in Dar es Salaam on May 26 in response to President Samia Hassan’s order for the reforms process, including the drafting of a new constitution, to be speeded up.
According to council chairman Juma Ali Khatibu, the initial meeting was aimed at discussing steps to be taken in preparation for the meeting in August.
The initial meeting was held on the same day that the East African Court of Justice dismissed a government appeal against the court’s 2022 ruling calling for changes to the Political Parties Act, 2019 to bring it in line with democratic principles set out in the East African Community Treaty.
On May 6, President Samia instructed the Registrar of Political Parties, Judge Francis Mutungi, to meet with the parties and formally chart a way for the reforms process based on the task force’s report.
According to Judge Mutungi, one recommendation from the report that will be put into effect quickly is the formation of a “panel of experts” to supervise the process to its logical conclusion.
He said the parties themselves would be given room to choose their representatives on the panel and all the recommended names would be filtered during the August meeting to endorse those who will make up the panel.
“The panel will begin its work by properly classifying the taskforce recommendations so we can proceed without any misunderstandings among the parties and stakeholders involved. It is important that we avoid getting stuck like what happened with the previous New Katiba processes,” the registrar explained.
In its March 25, 2022, ruling based on a petition filed by several opposition party leaders in Tanzania, the EACJ listed several sections of the Political Parties Act that it said violated the EAC treaty and ordered the Tanzania government to take necessary measures to amend the law, so it conformed to the treaty.
According to the regional court, the cited provisions were discriminatory and appeared to impose blanket restrictions on areas such as democracy, good governance, and freedom of association including people’s rights to participate in public affairs.
The petitioners included the leader of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party Zitto Kabwe, Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe, former ACT-Wazalendo chairman Seif Sharif Hamad (now deceased), and Hashim Rungwe of the Chaumma party, along with the Legal and Human Rights Centre.
The Political Parties Act, which was passed during the presidency of Samia’s predecessor John Magufuli, has been widely criticised for being repressive. Among its most controversial aspects is the mandate it gives the Registrar of Political Parties to monitor internal party elections, including their respective processes for nominating and selecting candidates for key leadership positions and parliamentary representation.
Some political parties that attended the May 26 meeting in Dar es Salaam stressed that care should be taken when it comes to choosing the “panel of experts” that will be entrusted with overseeing the reforms.
“The constitution may be prepared by experts, but where will they come from and where do they fit into the bigger political picture? Any conflict of interest that may arise between the politicians and the experts will mean we won’t solve the constitutional problems in the long run,” warned John Cheyo, chairman of the United Democratic Party.
The task force proposed that the panel be appointed by the president and a “national dialogue” held to pinpoint clauses in the current constitution that need to be amended or scrapped altogether.
Civic United Front chairman Prof Ibrahim Lipumba emphasised the importance of making good use of the “short time left” before next year’s civic elections and the 2025 General Election to ensure that both elections are handled properly. “We have to move with the times, there are things we need to prioritise in order for the elections to run smoothly,” Prof Lipumba said.